As I perused my social media timeline this morning I saw post after post with some level of outrage over some level of minutia. Among those posts were some legitimate concerns about legitimate issues but the signal to noise ratio was complete crap. While I mentally knew that I could tell that my brain was emotionally reacting to this stream of drama. It was at that point I decided I needed to clean up my social media experience to avoid potentially succumbing to the effects of such a barrage.
My non-Facebook social media experience up until the 2020 primaries started getting underway back in 2019 was software, technology, food, and health based. I can’t say how many people I followed built up over that time but it was probably into the hundreds. Political news though was an area I preferred to have more control over my distribution. I didn’t need cranks and crackpots from around the internet chiming in on whatever I wrote. When I started seriously leaving Facebook behind but still needed an outlet for my political ramblings I felt I had no choice but to start using Twitter and the Fediverse for that purpose. This especially became true as the campaigns really started getting under way in 2019. As a consequence of that I started following more and more political accounts. It was interesting to get up to the minute information about what was happening. There was a danger in that too that one always needed to be cognizant of though.
Up to the minute information doesn’t mean that it was up to the minute accurate information. On social media this problem was even more amplified. Some boring piece of information just broke and yeah it will get covered and put out. It was the juicy and salacious information that really popped though. That’s what gets “engagement” so that goes up much faster. The rationale is that it can be taken down later if it’s not true. Some are worse about this than others but even honest operators fall into the trap. During the COVID outbreak, the election, etc. it was worth it. There was some unprecedentedly insane stuff going on. I needed to keep tabs on it. It was draining but I felt more listless without having my finger on the pulse of the information. I looked forward to the post-election period where without a President stoking the social media flames we didn’t have to follow all of this insanity. We could go back to some semblance of normal coverage again. That day never came though.
It’s one thing to argue that Political Twitter is appropriately in an always in outrage mode when there are huge events going on. My first experience with it was during such a time. We aren’t in that time period now though. Things aren’t back to normal at all of course. We still have COVID, but the vaccine roll outs are ramping up. We don’t have the head of government launching any Qanon or other insane conspiracy theory and stoking divisions through dozens of tweets a day. The intensity of Political Twitter then should be cranked down a notch. It’s not though. I don’t even follow the unhinged accounts and can see how overstimulated everything remains. While I appreciate being notified when a legitimately newsworthy outrage happens the signal to noise ratio is shit. It’s like a boy who cries wolf scenario but worse. The problem with perpetual outrage is that it fatigues us to the point where even if something truly outrageous happens we won’t respond appropriately. In bad scenarios we actually may not respond at all believing that it’s just another faux outrage. I don’t need the fatigue nor do I want to become desensitized to legitimate causes of concern. I’m therefore took the proactive step of purging the list of accounts I follow.
I started this morning with almost 1400 accounts I follow. As of this writing it is just under 1100. That was about 300 accounts which have been purged. Essentially any account that was a politician, political writer, political commentator, political talk show, etc. are now gone. That doesn’t mean anyone that talks about politics on Twitter is now gone from my follower count. It just means people and accounts whose purpose is primarily that are now gone. So for example Andrew Zimmern and Mike Okuda regularly post political stuff on their account but their account is primarily not for that. So those are two examples who stay. A few political accounts I actually have had direct interactions with and they follow me back. I left those alone as well. Everyone else is gone. Again I didn’t follow especially extreme accounts anyway, but now they are all gone. That even includes the people I enjoyed following on Twitter. Why would I do that? To make the process of culling an 1100 element list as seamless as possible. All of those people continue to write for periodicals so I’m not going to miss their broader commentary. I’m just going to miss the play by play, which is the bigger point.
I believe it is irresponsible to disconnect oneself from current events. We can’t pretend we live on our own island when we are actually very interconnected with the world and other people. Getting microsecond play by play of current events isn’t necessary either though. I’ve done a “slow media” detox before and this is something akin to that. I’m essentially dropping back to checking in on current events through daily and weekly periodicals and podcasts. It is not only far more digestible it also gets around the perpetual stimulation problem, which in the end I don’t think is healthy for anyone. I still intend to share my thoughts on politics. I’m sure I’ll run into plenty of political content as well. However now I will dealing with 80% of my social media diet being dissection of the minutia, responses, response to responses, etc. of every outrage (big, little, or faux) that manifests itself online.